My sister would have done anything to keep her job at Walmart.
That’s what killed her.
Sunday, January 16, 2022, started out like any other Sunday in our family. My sister Janikka went to church service like she always did. After the service, she went to our mama’s house to eat lunch. And since Sunday was the only day she worked the late shift at Walmart, she braided mama’s hair before work, gave her a hug, told her she loved her and she would come back that evening to spend the night with her, and left for work. She was her usual, happy self that day.
Little did I know, that would be the last time we saw my sister alive.
My sister arrived on time as usual and was having a hard time completing her tasks because she started feeling sick and felt worse every hour that passed. Her department was short-staffed too so that didn’t help. She told a supervisor she was feeling sick, and they excused her to go to the restroom. She completed her shift and went back to the bathroom a little before 10:00 p.m.
And she was later found unresponsive on the bathroom floor.
Walmart cameras show Janikka going into the bathroom at the front of the store. Over the next hour, customers went in and out of that bathroom, and a Walmart maintenance associate later told us that he heard her screaming for help. My sister suffered for almost two hours on that bathroom floor, coughing up blood and trying to call 911 multiple times before anyone tried to help her. When the paramedics showed up at 11:30 that night, they found her lying face down on Walmart’s bathroom floor unconscious.
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She loved going over to our mama’s house on the weekends to spend time with the family, and she was so full of life. As a single mother, she would do anything to take care of her children. After her house burned down last year, she lost everything and had to start completely over, with nothing but the clothes on her back and the shoes on her feet. But she kept going for her children.
My sister was also chronically ill. Two years ago, she was hospitalized due to congestive heart failure. Walmart knew this, too, because she had to send them proof of her hospitalization so that she wouldn’t get fired.
None of this mattered because Walmart is a billion-dollar corporation built on a culture of fear and intimidation.
That is why, among many other things, executives do not offer sick time to hourly associates. They would rather them show up too sick to work and too scared to call off because they are subject to a point system that could ultimately lead to their termination. I know this because I am a former Walmart employee.
Since we lost Janikka, my emotions have been up and down. I hate that she felt like she couldn’t leave her shift at Walmart to take care of herself. Every day I ask myself why she didn’t just walk out, but honestly I know why. Through their policies and the way they treat hourly associates, Walmart executives send a very clear message: We don’t consider you human. Why else would they force a chronically ill person with visible signs of sickness to work through a shift on one of their busiest days of the week during a pandemic?
For anybody else who might read my sister’s story and ask why she didn’t just leave work that day, the answer is simple: She was scared to call off and then scared to leave work in the middle of her shift. That’s what it’s like working at Walmart.
To make matters worse, in addition to working in an unhealthy and unsafe environment, during their training Walmart associates are told as a matter of policy that they must not intervene if there is an emergency in their store. We know that at least one Walmart associate heard my sister’s final cries for help from outside the bathroom the night she died.
For almost two hours, nobody — not even her supervisor — stopped to help her, not because they didn’t want to, but because they were trained NOT to interfere in emergency situations unless authorized by an immediate supervisor.
Nothing can bring my sister back; there will always be a hole in our family. But we will work to make sure that nobody else suffers the same way Janikka did. To bring justice to Janikka and all associates who have ever felt unsafe, unhealthy, or unsupported working at Walmart, we are calling on Walmart executives to enact the PERRY policy.
Information posted here has been submitted directly by Walmart associates and was not created or developed by United for Respect. The opinions and statements in these stories are those of the authors.